I’m not a John Kerry supporter, and I never have been. I don’t really have any major conflict with any of his policies (at least not any more than I did with that of any other candidate). I’m not offended by his personality although I find him to be incredibly boring and bland. The fact that he’s an “insider” doesn’t really sway me in any particular direction. No, the real reason I’ve disliked John Kerry since the fall is because I can’t stand the people I’ve met on this campus who represent him.
Let’s back up a bit. I came back to Tufts from a summer abroad with a fairly open mind, waiting to be convinced by a Democratic presidential nominee that he (or she) was the one for me. I soon joined the Howard Dean campaign, a candidate I generally supported, but not because of anything he was doing, but because I felt pushed towards him by Kerry supporters.
I’ve talked about what it was that I don’t like about the Students for Kerry in a previous column, as I put them amongst the group I refer to as “pre-politicians” (Get Up, Stand Up!, 11/10/2003). The essence of what I dislike in these students is that their passion lies for politics and the political process, not for public service or policy issues. This is reflected in the argument proffered by Kerry supporters from the get-go: “he is electable.” The derivative of that argument was that Dean was not electable, and why support someone unless they are going to win, regardless of your beliefs.
I strongly believe that one of the failures of contemporary American politics is the overwhelming attitude that, particularly on the left, we shouldn’t even try for what it is we really want if it seems too difficult. People embroil this in the idealism versus pragmatism debate, but I think that that entire frame is part of the problem, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why can’t one be idealistic and pragmatic at the same time? The political ideology espoused by Howard Dean, or by any other Democratic candidate, is not irrational, wacko, or impossible. Our ideals should guide what we aim for in politics. When we abandon our ideals, we fail, because passionless agendas rarely produce useful policy.
In my many interactions with Tufts’ students involved with the Kerry campaign, I have been thoroughly impressed with the aplomb and polish with which they represent their candidate. Then I vomit. It’s one thing to suggest that it’s inappropriate for a candidate himself to display passion and shoot his mouth off, but for students to present the cleaned-up, P.R.-friendly image of a professional politico in casual conversation and in classrooms is disgusting.
My dislike for John Kerry was only intensified by the disaster of a class I took last fall, “Governing in a Partisan Environment,” co-taught by Jeanne Shaheen, former Governor of New Hampshire and current John Kerry Campaign Chair. To be honest with you, this class was so distressing that it led me to have to take the semester off from my major in political science.
First off, the class was filled with pre-politicians, all seeking to get an in with “the Governor.” So there was very little meaningful dialogue on the occasions when Shaheen led class, because no one wanted to criticize anything the Governor had said or done. As you may have guessed, I did, and if Shaheen gets a high-ranking appointment in a Kerry cabinet, the chances of me working in federal government in the next four years probably aren’t so great. Shaheen presented a narrative of her years as Governor of New Hampshire, but with little critical insight, and absolutely no criticism of her own decisions. It was as if she were campaigning for election in the classroom: disingenuous, tempered, staged, reserved, and noncontroversial.
At first I felt bad that I let my experience with people other than John Kerry color my feelings for him. But in presidential elections, you are not voting simply for a President and Vice President, but rather for an entire regime. And the people that a candidate surrounds himself with in the campaigning stage are fairly indicative of the people who he will surround himself with as President, either in appointed positions within the federal government or as influences outside the Executive.
I am nauseated by the number of students who suddenly started wearing Kerry buttons when it became apparent he would win the Democratic nomination. These students may argue, “Well, I’m going to back anyone who wins the nomination….better than Bush!” But there’s a difference between backing someone in the end and becoming a big supporter. I will vote for John Kerry in November, but you won’t see me on the campaign trail, with a bumper sticker, or at a rally. My ideals are irrelevant at this point; I have no choice but to settle.
Adam Pulver is a junior majoring in Political Science and Community Health. He can be reached at [email protected]